I am not good at relationships.
That’s all I can think about as I feel mildly despondent and frustrated since hanging out with Elliot and his wife a few days ago.
We drank bubbly and ate truffled cheeses with crackers, laughed and talked for hours – well beyond what I thought was an appropriate time – and by all accounts had a truly lovely time.
I arrived a little late with a bottle of Moët and a nervous smile. He answered the door – tall as a damn tree – and gave me a quick hug hello. Eleanor greeted me from across the room.
We hugged hello and I looked around for a place to sit. Elliot sat back down in an oversized arm-chair next to the Cubs game that was on mute and Eleanor sat in hers that was diagonal from his 15 feet away. I was left to the giant U-shaped sectional.
And so we sat in our 3 spots spaced out across their little family room listening to New England bands with the game on laughing and drinking and generally being merry. It was odd seeing Elliot so close and yet so far. I joked about being all alone on the couch, but neither one moved any closer.
I knew going in that it would be chaste, like hanging out with any regular couple I wasn’t sexually or emotionally involved with, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the surreal nature of it.
Eleanor was charming and vivacious, her wit quicker than most and her laugh easy. Elliot crackled with charm himself and I longed for some hidden message from him about what I don’t know.
I placated myself with a little fantasy that the twinkle in his eye was for me, but who knows. Perhaps he was just tired. He’d worked overtime at least two days in a row and was coming off a 15 hour day. Maybe his eyes were just glazing over.
When he said with a laugh it was 1 am I jumped up, startled. “What?! Oh my God, I’m so sorry! I thought it was 11!” I felt horrible that I may have overstayed my welcome. He got me some water for the road and I hugged first Eleanor then him goodbye. He walked me to the door, but no further.
I felt something about that.
Half way home he texted to tell me to let him know when I got home. By the time I did he was fast asleep. I also texted Eleanor my pleasure in meeting her.
The next morning I awoke feeling taut. Well that was a big fucking deal, I thought.
When was the last time I met anyone of any kind of substance connected to someone I was dating? The Neighbor hid me for years and I railed against it. And there’s been no one else past a shitty third date, so when Elliot wanted this meeting to happen and that made me feel special and shiny.
And then… I didn’t so much.
Eleanor texted at 7 am with a bright smiley emoji and an exclamation point, but nothing from Elliot.
At 9:15 I checked in, asked if he was up. His reply was groggy, energy-less. “Yeah, what’s up?” Ummm.
I asked how last night had gone for him and shared that it’d been odd to be so far away from him all night and I was curious about his thoughts in general. After a 30 minute delay he replied, “It was good. We had a nice time, everything was cool.”
I had a half-day training that started at 1 pm and at 9:45 in the morning I helplessly watched the wind slowly leave my sails. My heart sagged.
I texted again. I was glad they’d had a good time but I was hoping for more feedback:
“Did I do a good job? Was I an overly talkative asshole?? Was it no big deal for you to sit 6ft away all night bc it was weird for me. I need to talk about it more. I’m having a met-your-wife-for-the-first-time-last-night reaction.”
It was painful to be so honest about my feelings. Normally I hide and pretend I’m the Cool Girl – God forbid I have needs that exceed what I have been given – but I didn’t want to do that with Elliot. As he has told me repeatedly, I just need to be myself.
He assured me that I hadn’t done anything wrong, that there was no wrong, and that neither he nor Eleanor had felt weird about the evening. He was gardening while he texted. “I’m gonna think on it & try to come up with something profound and astute while I’m taming these tomatoes.”
By 12 I had stuffed tears back into my face as I prepared for my afternoon no less than 3 times. I felt unmoored, lost, blind. I had not gotten what I apparently needed from him: a proverbial bear hug. All I had gotten was a little pat on the back.
I put on my big girl pants and told him I was feeling a little hung out to dry about it all and could we talk after my training. I held my breath before I hit “send.”
He replied right away and assured me again that there was no big debriefing about me, “Eleanor likes you, she thinks you’re cool, she had a good time. I like you, I like hanging out with you, I think you’re smart & fun & interesting & a kind, thoughtful person. There’s no “but.” It’s only been hours since you were over here, and nothing has changed since yesterday morning. I am personally at the end of my energy at the end of this week & need to recharge. And you know all this stuff, you’re a smart communicator and have a high EQ!”
It wasn’t a bear hug, but it was better. Much better.
I felt relief flood through me and embarrassment that I needed more than what he’d given me originally, then chagrin that I would be embarrassed at my needs in the first place. Back to relief, then confusion and irritation – why wouldn’t I need more, that was hard! Round again to more relief.
It was exhausting.
Now I have feelings, he has feelings. Everything’s all complicated because: feelings. On top of that I’m an external processor (clearly) and he is an internal one (obvs), extrovert/introvert problems coupled with an insecure attachment style (mine) and possibly and avoidant one of his.
I am a fucking basket case fighting to stay afloat in choppy waters.
Saturday I turned down his invitation to Sunday brunch at his house; it would have been too much for me to be there with their two dozen friends. He graciously accepted and acknowledge that he’d worried it might have been too soon and overwhelming for me. All I could think of is if I’d had that bear hug the morning after I may have been able to handle that brunch, but now my confidence was brittle.
This new need for more feels like a burr in my sock, a pain in my ass.
I need more words, more assurance, more something.
I have convinced myself that his feelings have changed for me because he doesn’t seem bothered that it could be weeks before we see each other due to my custody schedule. And it seems like we’ve spoken much less and the quality of our conversations have changed since meeting Eleanor. I also feel bat shit crazy because reasons. Also: I’m crazy. (See above.)
Besides being emotionally whooped at the end of a brutal week and not being effusive with his support right off the bat he hasn’t done a fucking thing wrong. I am unbraiding all by myself. Last I checked neither of us were mind readers.
I think I could dismantle anything that’s even remotely working and this is why I believe I am royally awful at relationships, why I feel so wrung out right now.
I’ve spent two decades on a therapist’s couch and I am no closer to relaxing with another human being than I was when I was a little girl and my parents’ love came with changing rules and strict conditions to not need anything different from what they were prepared to give. It still haunts me today.
At least I recognize my own stark raving fears now whereas as a young woman at 20, 30 years old I had no idea how deep my fear of rejection went, how white-hot its influence. I am struggling to decipher if what I feel is real or imagined, but I am also clinging to what he’s told me: he likes me, he thinks I’m great, he wants me to be in his life. I’m attempting to do something brand spanking knew: trust.
So I close my eyes and I remember his endless limbs wrapped around me in the candlelight and his lips on mine, and I think how could I not believe every velvety word he whispers? Every silken sigh? Maybe he knows what he’s doing with all of this and I should follow where he leads me even if the path isn’t as brightly lit as I’d like.
So what if I’m bad at relationships? Maybe he’s not.